Monday, December 29, 2008

I love a bargain!!!

I don't always shop wisely when I see something I think is a real deal. While shopping for groceries on Saturday I found these ice cream treats for 25 cents a box. That would be less than 5 cents per treat. I loaded up the deep freeze. I hope the name keeps me from eating too many!

What was your best bargain of the Holiday Season???

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Visit with Santa

We saw Santa at Jen and Shawn's house! Pretty exciting.

(This was last weekend. My posts are out of order...)

Christmas Pageant

The kids at church put on a pageant on Christmas Eve. Alex was a "star." He had one line and overcame big-time stage fright to deliver it perfectly. Joseph wasn't in the show, but enjoyed wearing the costume after it was all over! All too cute. Sorry the photos are not great. I took them with my phone.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Random thoughts

My posts about my children always seem to have a bittersweet tinge. Somehow, I rarely seem to be able to have a completely positive experience. I guess, try as I may, I'm still trying to make them into something they are not. And what they ARE is great. The problem is mine, not theirs.

I make sing language "I Love You" hand cookies by using a regular handprint cookie cutter and folding down two fingers. All the teachers loved them. I forgot to take photos for the blog. I found this cookie cutter, and it is pretty cute, too. But I like my more three-dimensional approach.

I floated the idea of going to the store to buy toys to give away to needy kids with Alex. He REALLY doesn't want to do that. I guess I won't force him. Had a talk with his Psychologist who has been doing some research about adoption. The psychologist is treating at least one other adopted child (from Russia) who exhibits some of the same behaviors as Alex's. I think the "hoarding" instinct is common among adopted kids. I guess I won't push a boy that never seems to get enough toys for himself at Christmas to go buy toys to give away....

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Alex's school party

I volunteered to help at Alex's school party on Friday. I read the story. It was fun, and interesting to see what goes on in the classroom. This photo shows one of the positive things from the party. The kids were paired at random. The pairs had to link arms, and use one right hand and one left hand to wrap a present. Everyone had fun. Alex's partner was good at telling him what to do, and cheated and used her right hand when he was too slow. They are trying to work a tape dispenser in the photo. They finished the task. Reading the story was fun, and Alex was happy that I was there.

The down side... The second game they played involved filling out a bingo sheet. You had to find someone in the room with glasses on, or with blond hair, or who had a cat, etc. etc. and have them sign your form. Once you had a bingo it was over. The room was chaos. All the kids running around a screaming at each other. Two kids didn't participate at all, and no one stepped forward to help them. The child with down syndrome, and you guessed it, Alex. The other kids just didn't notice them. No one came to ask Alex if he had a cat. No one asked if he had ever been to California... It was hard to watch. I'm sure this happens to every special needs child over and over again, in the best of schools. But it hurts Alex. Joseph doesn't care. Alex cares. We spend a lot of time and effort trying the teach Joseph social skills. Maybe he is better off not being very social. Craving social interaction gets Alex a world of hurt.

I'm helping with the sermon tomorrow

Seems pretty ironic to me. I don't ever think of myself as a leader at church. I attend, I participate, I struggle. I sent a copy of my post from Dec 2 (Grace) to our pastor. What was I thinking? I thought he would enjoy the story from the other side of the pew. Well, he immediately asked me to read this as part of a sermon, and tomorrow will be the day. I'll post his "frame" for my story--I have a draft, but not the final copy. I'll wait 'till tomorrow to get the final copy.

It is a bit scary, but also flattering. I'm still not sure I think others will be all that interested in the story, but I guess we will see. I've changed a few things, I guess I'll update the blog post with the new, improved version. And I'll let you know how it goes!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Well, maybe not that old

I used the "do it yourself" machine at the post office today.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I'm Old

Standing in line at the post office yesterday I noticed the following about the women who had packages to mail. For some reason, I didn't care what the men were doing. Guess I didn't relate to them. All the older women were in line waiting for the real people to weigh packages. All the young women, usually with two or three small children in tow, went to the self-service machine. Hmm. I waited for about 20 minutes for that real person at the counter. Hmmm... I'm not sure I'm comfortable with what that says about me. Next time, I'm going to the self-service machine...

I'm being crafty

In the best sense of the word.

Usually, I am tempted to spend time in December making cute food. One year it was chocolate dipped pretzels. One year it was pretty sugar cookies. My confections don't always turn out the way I want, and I eat too many. The idea is to have something special to give as a token gift. We don't exchange gifts with Dave's brother, and give his nieces token gifts... So, often I've done some baked good. This year I've been experimenting with crafty ornaments. I bought styrofoam balls (which are way more expensive than I thought they would be...) and planned to do folded star quilt ornaments. Those didn't work out at all. Mine looked terrible. So I started experimenting and googling and found many variations of a pattern for these very fancy balls:

Mine are not nearly as elaborate, nor do I use all the different materials the pattern calls for, but I think mine are pretty darn nice. Samples in the photos below:

Funky, traditional, and rustic. My favorite so far is the funky one. I had a lot of fun going through the fabric and trim at Joann this morning.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

White Night

Somewhere I read the term "White Night" to refer to a sleepless night where worries and demons just get the better of you. I'm having one of those. They are rare for me now that I take an antidepressant. But I'm having one this morning. It is 4 am.

My worry this morning is not family. My anxiety is all about my professional life. It is the end of the term. I gave final exams the past two days. I graded yesterday and will grade more today. It has been a good term. I was told by a student that my class was his favorite of his college career so far. (He may have been trying to butter me up...) I've been told by a homesick international student that I'm the only faculty member she can talk with. I established a fragile rapport with a minority student who struggled in my class; he works very hard, but spins his wheels. I don't think I helped him learn the material, but I think I gave him a bit of confidence in himself. All I'm trying to do is teach music theory. It is rewarding that I seem to be able to teach more than that. I genuinely care about these young people.

So, perhaps, it is the transition from full speed teaching to several weeks of blissful time at home that has my mind working overtime.

I enjoy teaching. I love teaching. But I'm alone all day every day in my office. Grading papers. Preparing classes. Sending emails to graduate teaching assistants. I have no interaction with peers. I say hello in the hall to colleagues. We chat briefly. That is it. I can't find time for longer, more rewarding interactions. Thus, I find teaching very isolating. And teaching is not challenging. It is rewarding, but not challenging.

I am doing no administrative work this year. That has been my source of peer to peer interaction over the past 23 years. I find administrative work both rewarding and challenging.

I'm trying to work up a research agenda for the next year or two. I want to apply for a leave for next year. Research is even more isolating than teaching, and has always been my least favorite part of the academic life. It is an enormous challenge for me to stay motivated and focused on my own research. Clearly it is my weakest area as a professional, and the rewards have come rarely if at all.

Top all of this churning around in my brain with an email yesterday from a colleague that referred to the "new and very effective administration" in the School, where I was part of the old, and I guess ineffective administration. That statement reinforces the fact that my administrative career is over. My decision last summer to walk away from a stressful conflict still feels like the right one, but the long term consequences of my decision are distressing. I guess that is what has me up at 4 am. I'm still coming to terms with what the rest of my professional life will look like. The goals I had for the past 10 or 20 years have to be revised for the next 10.

Thanks for listening. I think I'll go play solitaire now and take my mind off this nonsense.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008


Alex has told me that Santa is not real--each of the past few years. He says it in such a way that I know he wants me to tell him that Santa IS real. I always tell him that the spirit of Santa is very, very real. We went to a potluck at church where we sing carols, and have a visit from Santa. One of my favorite events of the season. Fun was had by all. I notice how much I can start letting the boys do for themselves now. Each carried his own plate as we went through the food line. Joseph almost tipped his over, but I caught him just in time.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


Last year on Christmas Eve I had an experience that a friend of mine called a "moment of grace." I'm inclined to agree with her. I've been mindful of that day and that moment as we approach Christmas this year. It is a long story, so settle in.

Christmas Eve is one of my favorite days, perhaps my very favorite day of the year. It isn't just the presents--it is going to church at night, candles, memories of caroling on Christmas Eve with my family, warm soup, cold, dark outside, warmth and light inside. I've tried hard, over the years, to lower my expectations of Christmas. I think I cried myself to sleep on many a Christmas Eve when I was a child because I was just plain exhausted, and it was all too much to bear. I know when I was in college I had a very hard time not crying in church when all the lights were out and we sang Silent Night. Okay, okay. I can hear you thinking--so why is this day your favorite? All you ever did was cry???!! (Okay, maybe you are not thinking that, but that is EXACTLY what Dave, my dear, literal husband, would say...)

I like to imagine that I'm more grown up than that now. That I live in the moment rather than dreaming of some ever so much more perfect future. (My Mother is a dreamer--there is always a better way to do everything--the right now is never quite good enough... I've tried hard not to follow in her footsteps in that. There is much to admire in my Mother, but being content in the here and now is not one of her strong suits.) So the Christmas season--with the waiting and the hoping--builds expectations for, if not a more perfect future, for a more perfect minute, day, evening, hour?

Last year, I spent Christmas Eve day with my two boys. Dave was at work all day. I had things to do, but also time to spend with the boys. I don't remember all of the details, but by the middle of the morning Alex had been so naughty I had declared that we were taking one of his presents and giving it to charity. I loaded the boys in the car, grabbed a not yet wrapped gift, and headed to the local charity drop box. I made Alex take the bag and put it in the collection bin. He saw the Pokemon toys in the bag. He wanted those toys. I can't say that his behavior improved as the day went on, but it didn't get any worse.

Joseph, on the other hand, had a full-blown meltdown during the afternoon. I left him alone in the basement for maybe half an hour and went to check on him when I started to hear noises I should not be hearing. He was trashing all the toys. Boxes of puzzles open and spilled on the floor. Books flung from shelves. Legos everywhere. Then the real fun started. I asked him to pick things up. I'm sure he sensed by my voice that he had me--I was totally in his control, right where he wanted me, so he laid down amid the mess and laughed. At this point, I screamed at him. Not one of my shining moments as a parent. One of my worst. I screamed loud enough that I could feel it in my throat. And, of course, that was even better for Joseph--he loved it, and he laughed even more. If my memory serves, at that point I went upstairs and put myself in timeout. Just took a half hour to not worry about how big a disaster the basement was, but stop myself from going too far. During that half hour I remembered all the behavior modification techniques we have practiced over and over and over with Joseph. I had to provide a reward for cleaning up that he wanted more than he wanted to see me lose it. So I went downstairs and told Joseph he could watch TV if he cleaned up the mess in the basement. Magic words. He got up and started putting things away--maybe not in the right places, but off the floor. I prompted him over and over again to continue so he could watch TV, and eventually he finished the job. Again, my memory is a bit fuzzy, but I think I let both boys watch TV for the rest of the day.

So much for my "favorite" day. I had a sore throat from screaming, Alex was pouting because he had lost a present, and both boys were parked in front of Sponge Bob.

But soon the afternoon was over. Dave was home. We drove to pick up Grandma and got ready for church. We were the family that was to light the Advent wreath at the Christmas Eve service. Yes, indeed God has quite a sense of humor. The spotlight was to be on us that evening. I was feeling like the worst possible parent, with the most dysfunctional family ever. Seems to me that special days--birthdays, holidays--are the times where having special needs children really kicks you in the teeth. But that isn’t true. Holidays and special days are just the times I turn into my mother, and want everything to be perfect instead of everything to be the way it really is. That has nothing at all to do with autism. That has everything to do with being human.

So, what does this have to do with grace? As we loaded ourselves into the van that evening, heading to church, I looked up and saw in the wood behind our home, a beautiful buck. We see deer all the time in our woods, but this was the first, and still the only buck I’ve ever seen on our property. My moment of grace. At that point, I let go. I let Christmas happen. I was in the moment, not in the future. Hope had come. The buck didn’t turn and run. Alex was able to see him, too. Grace. A moment of grace.

That evening in church, we walked together as a family with the flame to light the advent candles. Alex wanted to play with the lighter, so we let him carry it down the aisle. It was a big responsibility for a little boy who had had a rough day. A year later he still remembers. He told me just yesterday that he was nervous carrying the light. The buck had calmed me, and I was proud of my dysfunctional family.

But God doesn’t let us forget. I was reminded all through church that evening of my part in the day. My voice was gone, so I could not sing. My favorite part of Christmas Eve, and no sound would come from my still raw throat. Perhaps I was taught a gentle lesson. Perhaps I’ll be able to sing this Christmas Eve.